God’s own country

The last film I saw in 2017 was Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name and my first film of 2018 is God’s own country, two gay films about young men falling in love. Call me by your name has been sold as a possible Oscar contender and a follow-up to last year’s Moonlight. But I think that God’s own country is the much better film. It takes place in present-day Yorkshire, England where twenty-something Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) lives on a sheep farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart) and his grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). His father suffered a stroke and Johnny has to work long hours alone to keep things going. He spends his evening drinking at the local pub with occasional gay sex in public washroom. Having been drinking all night, the next day becomes even more of a burden. Some of the work is not being done and Martin and Deirdre chastise him. But what can they do? They have all inherited an unpleasant situation. Johnny is terribly unhappy and lonely. Then the decision is taken to hire some help for the lambing season. Enter handsome Romanian hired hand Gheorghe Ionescu (Alex Secareanu). Initially, Johnny resents Gheorghe’s presence at the farm. They have to spend several days camping nearer to where the animals have moved. Whatever happens during these few day will change their lives. They have sex, but unlike Luca Guadagnino with Call me by your name, director
Francis Lee and his actors seems unafraid to show sex between men or male nudity. It’s raw (don’t worry nothing explicit or pornographic) and it feels real. And Lee has wisely defined the relationship between the two men with an earlier detail. In his previous encounters, Johnny won’t kiss his male partners, but he kisses Gheorghe. But it’s more than that. Gheorghe has a love and appreciation of the beauty of the country, and for Johnny the love of a man and of the country is the only thing that can save his life. After some misstep, Johnny decides that he needs Gheorghe if he wants to be happy. God’s own country has a lot of similarities with Ang Lee’s Brokeback mountain. The two lovers in God’s own country are also masculine men of few words, the movie is raw and rough. O’Connor’s expressive star making performance is riveting. The painful expression of the depressed and unhappy Johnny is heart wrenching. Alex Secareanu’s Gheorghe is an intriguing composition, making him, in Johnny’s eyes, impossible to read. He is forceful and tender all at once. They are well supported by Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who play characters more concerned with the daily chore and small gestures than the long conversations. Joshua James Richards’s cinematography is most important here. Like a painter, he carefully uses touches of grays and blues for the Yorkshire skies, and browns, oranges and ochre for its trees and leaves. Josh O’connor has said “I loved that this was an unforgiving, bleak view of someone’s life, but which had hope. You don’t see that in any cinema, let alone LGBT.”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays t Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 12 – 17
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/gods-own-country

God’s own country

Directed by:
Francis Lee

Screenplay by:
Francis Lee

Starring:
Josh O’Connor
Alec Secareanu
Gemma Jones
Ian Hart
Harry Lister Smith

104 min.

Rated 18A

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Call me by your name

And what I’m trying to say isn’t really new
It’s just the things that happen to me
When I’m reminded of you

Is it okay if I call you mine? from the film Fame (1980), music and lyrics by Paul McCrane

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment,
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.

Plaisir d’amour (1784), music by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Awards season is near and one of the films that has been on everyone’s lips is Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name. Some people are hoping that Call me by your name is this year’s Moonlight (the film that was eventually named Best picture at the last Oscar cast following a screw up with the envelopes). Moonlight was the first LGBTQ themed film to ever win Best picture, and there’s talk of a repeat in 2017. But will it win? In Call me by your name, Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Italian-American, lives in the Italian countryside with his parents. We are in the summer of 1983 and Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of archaeology, has hired an American student to help him. Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome a 24-year-old man with golden hair, comes to stay with them at their beautiful villa in Lombardy. Oliver will sleep in Elio’s room. Although Elio spends some time with his girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) and Oliver is seeing a local girl, it soon becomes clear that the young men are attracted to each other. It’s done in small details. When Oliver suddenly touches Elio’s shoulder during a ball game, the teenager’s reaction is to quickly withdraw. But when they are alone, it is Elio’s turn to touch, kiss and grab, and Oliver to hold back. They are both conscious and wary of their feelings. Oliver is ambiguous. He enjoys the game of seduction and the attention, but is also aware of the danger. But what should happen, happens. Call me by your name is actually not as explicit as screenwriter James Ivory originally conceived it. A lot of nudity (read full frontal) was removed at the request of the actors. And then there is a scene of Elio in bed with a peach (yeah, a peach!). There was Marlon Brando and butter in Last tango in Paris, now there is Timothée Chalamet and a peach in Call me by your name. Guadagnino is such an original filmmaker. In Call me by your name he is more concerned with the small gestures, the furtive glances and the tearful face than the long dialogue scenes that will spell everything out for the moviegoers. The way the part is written, it would be almost impossible to play Elio. There are too many things for a young actor to do, too many emotions at once. But Chalamet hits every nails with brilliance make it seems easy, no sweat, and at the end the audience feels emotionally drained. Armie Hammer is Chalamet’s perfect partner, accompanying him, and us in this intense love story. Hammer, like Chalamet, gives a most multi-layered performance. And as Elio’s dad Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a heartfelt speech to help his son cope with his sorrow. The beauty of the Italian landscapes is casually photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom as we go along for a bike ride or for a swim in a river. He knows that however beautiful it is, there is nothing more beautiful than two young lovers.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from January 23 – 25
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/call-me-by-your-name

Call me by your name

Directed by:
Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:
James Ivory
Based on the novel by André Aciman

Starring:
Timothée Chalamet
Armie Hammer
MIchael Stuhlbarg
Amira Casar

132 min.

Rated 14A

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

Wonder wheel

Wonder wheel, the new Woody Allen film is not a comedy but a melodrama. “I relish melodrama and larger-than-life characters,” says Mickey (Justin Timberlake) speaking to the camera. Mickey is a Coney Island lifeguard and wannabe playwright, and this type of naration is often used in theatre. This is the 1950s, and the film centres on Ginny (Kate Winslet), a clam-bar waitress and wannabe actress. She lives with her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, and her young son Richie (Jack Gore), an incorrigible pyromaniac. Their apartment next to the boardwalk is surrounded by the noise of the amusement park and the shooting games. The film starts as Humpty’s estranged daughter Caroline (Juno Temple) comes to seek refuge from her mobster husband. Initially Humpty refuses to get involved because he’s afraid the mobster will be looking for her. But her allows her to stay with them. Meanwhile, Ginny has an affair with Mickey the lifeguard, who is a few years younger than she is. That gives Ginny a little break from the gloom of life at the apartment where Ginny and Humpty are always fighting and Richie gets in trouble again with another fire he has started. With Mickey, Ginny can dream to be an actress again, and Ginny is happy. That is untill Mickey meets Caroline and he falls for her. Although this is an original screenplay by Woody Allen, it feels like a play, either adapted from another source or from an unproduced Woody Allen play. A big chunk of the action is stagey and takes place inside the apartment. But even when it does not, the screenplay has a series of speeches and monologues that seems like it was written for the stage. It may have been deliberate. Look at it this way: Ginny played on stage when she was younger, and Mickey, who wants to be a playwright, reads Shakespeare, quotes Eugene O’Neill (Wonder wheel might have been an O’Neill play, or a Tennessee Williams, or an Edward Albee). The characters in Wonder wheel are angry people, clinging on to their unattainable dreams. They are surrounded by a deafening dysfunctional noise. Wonder wheel is well directed by Allen with an acute sense of doom. But there is a lack of focus in the writing. There is enough drama and material for several films. Winslet is unforgettably tense in portraying Ginny’s increasingly hysterical neuroses. And legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s brilliant use of colors is one of the great joy of this Woody Allen film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonder wheel

Directed by:
Woody Allen

Screenplay by:
Woody Allen

Starring:
Kate Winslet
Justin Timberlake
Juno Temple
Jim Belushi

101 min.

Rated 14A

Lady Bird

In her semi-autobiographical solo directorial debut, Greta Gerwig tells the story of a complicated teenage girl who, like the teenage Gerwig, lives in Sacramento, California in 2002. Her name is Christine (Saoirse Ronan), but wants to be called “Lady Bird”. Lady Bird hates everything. She hates the Catholic school her parents chose because they could not afford anything else. She’s constantly fighting with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). At school Lady Bird hangs around with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and starts a relationship with Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). It is short-lived when she discovers his secret. Then Lady Bird meets musician Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet) and has sex with him. She would like to go an art school in New York, but her dad (Tracy Letts) lost his job and Marion insists that a local Catholic college will be just fine. Lady Bird is mostly about the mother and daughter’s relationship, and this gives us Laurie Metcalf in the best work she has ever done. It feels like Oscar material. The Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan scenes are so real that you think they were improvised. It is clear that, although they fight all the time, Lady Bird and Marion love each other very much and that the possibility that one will get hurt is greater because of that. If I laughed so much during Lady Bird, is that I got myself caught by surprise by the appalling behavior of that teenager. It’s Gerwig’s originality as an actress, screenwriter and director that is apparent here. Of course I’ve seen other films about teenagers. But one so real, funny and touching? I don’t think so.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lady Bird

 

Directed by:
Greta Gerwig

Screenplay by:
Greta Gerwig

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Laurie Metcalf
Tracy Letts
Lucas Hedges
Beanie Feldstein
Timothée Chalamet

93 min.

Wonderstruck

I was looking forward to see Wonderstruck, the new Todd Haynes film. The last film we saw from him was Carol, and he also directed Far from heaven. Wonderstruck is set in 1977, and it tells the story of a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) shortly after his mom ( if you blink you might miss Michelle Williams) has died in a car crash. Ben, who never knew who his dad was, finds what he thinks are relevant information. But before Ben can do anything, he has an accident that makes him deaf. He then runs away from his guardians in Minnesota and goes to New York in search for his father. Cut to Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. Rose (Millicent Simmonds), , a young deaf girl who runs away from her father to go Manhattan. Rose is searching for her favorite silent film actress (Julianne Moore who plays two characters). In 77, Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael), another boy who will help Ben find the answers he needs. While the Rose/1927 part of film was shot in black and white and is silent, the Ben/1977 are a full color reconstruction of 1977. You think “How did they do that?”. There are scenes in New York where you can see down a long street, and every car, every costume, the way people walk and smoke is like looking at a photo or a documentary film. I have no way of knowing if special effects were used. Brilliant cinematographer Edward Lachman has matched the style and colors of American cinema of the 1970s. It is impressive.  But the 1927 scenes are a lot less believable. The film is helped greatly by Carter Burwell’s expressive score. I was initially put off by Wonderstruck‘s lack of focus and its inconsistency. Some bit of dialogue and turn of events, at least in the early scenes, seemed to be a bit corny. But ultimately, I was charmed by the whole film because of its innocence and naiveté. I think all, pre-teens, teens and adults, will enjoy it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Wonderstruck

 

Directed by:
Todd Haynes

Screenplay by:
Brian Selznick
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Millicent Simmonds
Oakes Fegley
Julianne Moore
MIchelle Williams

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The Florida project

The characters featured in The Florida project are usually reserved for trash TV shows like The Jerry Springer show or Desperate housewives of… pick a place, any place really and you’ll find trash. But here, director Sean Baker does not want to judge. You may know Baker for his previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones. In The Florida project we follow Moonee (newcomer Brooklynn Prince), a 6-year-old girl. Moonee lives with her welfare mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite, also a newcomer) in one of the cheap motels near Disney world. During the day, Moonee is left wandering on her own without parental guidance. She’s not really alone. Wandering with her are her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her newly found best friend, Jancey (Valeria Cotto). There is nothing Moonee won’t do: spit on cars, ask strangers for money, demand free food be given to them, insult, yell and swear at adults. No limits. And when we get to know her mom, we get it. Halley is a walking time bomb. A in-your-face, loud-mouth young woman who is ready to steal to pay the rent, and even brings clients to her room while Moonee is in the washroom. The motel complex is managed by Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe, one of the few professional actors). Bobby does the best he can to help the tenants and make sure they don’t cause any more problems. He’s got his hands full with Halley and Moonee. The very thin plot with mostly improvised dialogue and a cast of non-professional actors does not mean that The Florida project is unworthy. On the contrary : the originality of its subject and Baker’s casual approach is its greatest assets. I will not soon forget Moonee and Halley or the actresses. Looking at Brooklynn Prince, one can’t help but remember Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern wild, with the difference that Wallis was a much more structured and powerful performance. Prince and Vinaite play characters rarely seen in films. Some people feel that a film needs a moral point. There is no point in The Florida project, except to experience unconventional, non-mainstream cinema. Oscar nominations? Yes. I would really like to see Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince among the nominees. But I think that Willem Dafoe is the glue that holds the film together. Dafoe’s Bobby is such warm and caring character, and he plays him with such a gentle touch, an ease. It flows. The Florida project is what it is. Totally original and undefined by our expectations.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Florida project

 

Directed by:
Sean Baker

Screenplay by:
Sean Baker
Chris Bergoch

Starring:
Brooklynn Prince
Willem Dafoe
Bria Vinaite
Valeria Cotto
Christopher Rivera
Mela Murder
Sandy Kane

112 min.

Rated 14A

Breathe

With the syrupy and bubbly Nitin Sawhney score and Robert Richardson’s Hallmark card cinematography, it was almost enough to dismiss Breathe as another one of those feel-good, manipulative tear-jerker. But I was wrong. Yes, it is a feel-good manipulative tear-jerker, but one fuelled by a cast of subtle players, and the joyful direction by Andy Serkis (yes, that Andy Serkis, the Gollum Andy Serkis from The Lord of the rings trilogy) in his debut as director. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish. In 1958, at only 28, Robin was diagnosed with polio. Claire Foy (TV’s The crown) plays Robin’s wife, Diana. The early scenes shows Robin, a vibrant young man, being overtaken suddenly by the disease. It can happen to anybody. Robin Cavendish was paralyzed, unable to breathe on his own and was only kept alive with the help of a respirator. Beside the opening scenes and a few dream sequences, Garfield is immobile from the neck down for the remainder of the film, playing only with his head. At first, Cavendish was told that he only three months to live, and that he would have to spend his last days in a hospital bed. But when Diana saw that her husband had fallen into a deep depression and that he refused to see their newborn son (Jonathan Cavendish is producing Breathe), she decided to bring him home. The doctors warned her that she would not be able to manage. But Diana did manage and Robin Cavendish died in 1994 when he was 64. Furthermore, with his friend Oxford University professor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Cavendish developed a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. They build more wheelchairs and made available to other polio patients, insuring their independence and a better quality of life. Andrew Garfield’s performance is more than a tour-de-force. Well, it is a tour-de-force, but throughout the film, Garfield is very careful to never overplay the dramatic situations. This is a film of survivals. I think that Claire Foy is even more restrained. We never know what Diana is thinking, but oh boy, if you tell her what to do, she’ll stay silent, then do what she wants, what she feels is right. Diana Cavendish must have been quite a lady. The other player of note is Tom Hollander as Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker. With the help of excellent special effects, Hollander is duplicated on the screen for most of his scenes. I first thought that the twins were played by real twin actors, but I was surprised to find out that it was Hollander alone. There is a scene that best define what the film is about. The family is traveling to Spain when the respirator’s motor blows up. The truck has stopped on a country road, and Robin is given air through a manual respirator, while they are waiting for Professor Hall to fly to Spain and fix the broken respirator. By the time of Hall’s arrival, a crowd has gathered around Robin and his family. There are tables full of food and wine, musicians, people are singing and dancing. When the respirator is repaired, the crowd applaud. This is a fiesta. A celebration of life.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Breathe

 

Directed by:
Andy Serkis

Screenplay by:
William Nicholson

Starring:
Andrew Garfield
Claire Foy
Tom Hollander
Hugh Bonneville

Rated Parental Guidance

118 min.

Menashe

“When I thought about making a film in Borough Park, in Yiddish, with real Hasidic Jews, to me it was just as interesting as any documentary I ever made.”, said director Joshua Z. Weinstein. Set in the Borough Park district of Brooklyn, is the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Hasidic Jewish man. Menashe has had his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), taken away to live with his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven needs a mother, says the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz). But Menashe is fat, and with his low wage job at a supermarket, it’s very unlikely he’ll find a wife. Still, Rabbi insists, he must marry. He constantly fights with Eizik to be more involved in his son’s life. It is clear that Rieven loves his dad and would rather live with him. Menashe’s life is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, he’s always late for work and his boss is losing patience. But Menashe loves his son and does not care about Rabbi or Eizik. This film is loosely based on Menashe Lustig’s life. And Lustig’s touching scenes with Ruben Niborski seemed so real that you feel that you are indeed watching a documentary. Menashe is slow-moving, but there is also an effective tension and suspense that involves us. The unusual setting of an American film in Yiddish that was shot in the Hasidic community, makes it even more compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Menashe

 

Directed by:
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Alex Lipschultz
Musa Syeed
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Starring:
Menashe Lustig
Ruben Niborski
Yoel Weisshaus
Meyer Schwartz

81 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Yiddish and English with English subtitles.

The only living boy in New York

When Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) sees his father kissing another woman, he decides to follow her… and then happens whatever happens in those types of films. Thomas, is a recent college graduate, lives in New York in a Lower East Side apartment when he is not spending the night at his parents’ Upper West Side house. One night while he’s out with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), he sees his father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a successful publisher, making out with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). He’s so intrigued by this, and her that he starts to stalk her. Either he wants to stick it to his dad, who is always very critical of his son’s choices, or he wants to break up the relationship before Judith, his mom, finds out. It’s probably both of those. Judith (Cynthia Nixon) has suffered from depression and alcoholism. It is clear that Thomas loves his mom and that he has a rather tense relationship with hid dad. After a few days of playing detective, Thomas is confronted by Johanna. She knows she’s been followed and she knows who he is. And then, as expecting, they start having sex. Meanwhile, Thomas befriends one of his neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges, who also narrates the film), a whisky-guzzling, chain-smoking novelist on the decline. Thomas confides to Gerald about Johanna, his dad and the whole mess. I found The only living boy in New York unexciting and boring. I would have thought that a film about a young man having an affair with his father’s mistress would, and should be sexy and a bit dirty. There is no sex! All that’s left is the acting. Jeff Bridges is good but the character he plays is such a cliché. Brosnan is better in avoiding the traps. Composer Rob Simonsen’s joyful and clever score is everything the film should be, but isn’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The only living boy in New York

 

Directed by:
Marc Webb

Screenplay by:
Allan Loeb

Starring:
Callum Turner
Kate Beckinsale
Pierce Brosnan
Cynthia Nixon
Jeff Bridges
Kiersey Clemons

88 min.

The big sick

The big sick is about Kumail, (Kumail Nanjiani playing himself) a stand-up comic who moonlights as a Uber driver. In his comedy routines Kumail talks about his Pakistani heritage and his Pakistani family. One evening, while performing at the comedy club, Kumail is interrupted by an audience member. It’s Emily (Zoe Kazan), a beautiful young woman. After the show, they connect and soon they are dating. But Kumail is hiding something from her. He does not tell her that, according to his traditional Muslim upbringing, his parents are hoping to arrange a marriage for Kumail. His parents don’t even know he is dating a non-Pakistani girl. When Emily, who thought they might have a future together, finds out the truth, she feels betrayed and angrily breaks off with him. A few weeks later, Kumail gets a phone call. Emily has become very ill and has been transported to hospital. He goes to the hospital and although he’s not her boyfriend anymore the doctors need him to authorize an urgent medically induced coma in order to save Emily’s life, while they investigate what is wrong with her. The arrival of Emily’s parents makes things a bit awkward. Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about the break up and how much Emily suffered as a result. But he sticks around and the relationships between him and Emily’s parents grows as they get know each other. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents have no knowledge of what is happening in their son’s life. His mother, Sharmeen (the hilariously deadpan Zenobia Shroff), invites a new Pakistani girl every time he comes for super. This is such an unusual film. What sets The big sick apart from other romantic comedies is that it is based on the real life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the screenplay together. Some of the facts have changed, except that the real Emily really spent a few days in a coma. Yes, a romantic comedy about a comatose girlfriend. But this is such a great film on so many levels. First: It has a screenplay that sparkle with witty, intelligent dialogues. The evolution of the characters and their stories feels real, not forced. It flows. And if it manages to be both funny and touching that’s because of its excellent ensemble cast. The early lively banter between Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan deceptively seems so easy to do. But that is not so. The easier it seems, the harder it must have been for the actors to achieve. And it is the same for every actors in The big sick. There’s SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Mary, a fellow stand up comedienne, who has such a pleasant way with words. Romano and Hunter are the most surprising pairing of the film. Hunter plays a badass mom with a heart and an attitude. Wearing a pair of worn-out jeans with patches and speaking with the thickest southern accent, you know right from the start that Beth is not a person to cross. We remember Ray Romano from his TV show Everybody loves Raymond. We recognize his voice, his way with words, but we never suspected such depth. You just can’t go wrong with a trio like Hunter, Romano and Nanjiani. Kumail Nanjiani is in every scenes, so he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulder. It is my hope that The big sick will be the sleeper hit of the year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The big sick

 

Directed by:
Michael Showalter

Screenplay by:
Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani

Starring:
Kumail Nanjiani
Zoe Kazan
Holly Hunter
Ray Romano
Anupam Kher
Zenobia Shroff
Adeel Akhtar

119 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Urdu with English subtitles.